Got PrimeX Short?: Half The Country's Mortgages Are Underwater

That PrimeX, or the index based on jumbo prime mortgages formerly considered ironclad and trading just around par, recently had some "volatile" times, is no secret. Last month's collapse in the PrimeX has been well documented on these pages, following a Fitch report that the prevailing underwater equity accepted number of underwater mortgages, a sacrosanct number at about 28-29% "just because", may be too low. Yet according to a note by real estate expert Mark Hanson, referenced by CNBC's Diana Olick, the truth of the matter is that, if one were to truly factor all implicit equity reductions, the number of underwater houses is...half. Expect this to proceed like a shockwave in the PrimeX space once the market comprehends what this means, with the usual 3-6 day delay.

From Hanson:

On US totals, if you figure average house prices use conforming loan balances, then a repeat buyer has to have roughly 10 percent down to buy in addition to the 6 percent Realtor fee to sell. Thus, the effective negative equity target would be 85%. You also have to factor in secondary financing, which most measures leave out.


Based on that, over 50 percent of all mortgaged households in the US are effectively underwater — unable to sell for enough to pay a Realtor and put a down payment on a new purchase without coming out of pocket. Because repeat buyers have always carried the market as the foundation, this is why demand has not come back. It's as if half the potential buyers in America died over a two-year period of time.

And as Olick further explains, while one can use all sorts of technical and chartist mumbo jumbo to explain why PrimeX is due to a rebound, the truth is that the fundamentals are increasingly looking as those of the same asset class that once upon a time started with the word "sub."

 It's as simple as buying and selling. Negative and effective negative equity are causing stagnation, which may in the end be far more detrimental than foreclosures. The argument to solve this problem is principal forgiveness, and it is gaining traction politically and somewhat less in the banking sector.


Principal forgiveness, or lowering the balance of a large chunk of the nation's mortgages, would be costly at best but could be catastrophic at worst. "Those thinking principal reductions are a panacea have never originated a loan, done the street level research, and do not really know the borrowers behind their data," argues Hanson. "More than likely it would create a far greater number of new strategic defaulters than the number it would legitimately save from Foreclosure."

Short PrimeX yet?